Psytron, ZX Spectrum

Psytron is an early shoot ’em up released for the ZX Spectrum by Beyond Software, who published it in 1984.

It’s a futuristic “base defence” game in essence, with you playing through six different levels trying to fend off alien invaders on a 10-screen landscape – the “Betula 5 Installation”.

Indicators flash red when a particular screen has enemy activity, in either the tunnels or in the air, and you can jump straight to any of the ten individual screens by pressing the number keys 0 through 9 – you don’t have to walk there!

Stage one sees you controlling a droid patrolling the base tunnels, hunting for saboteur robots and destroying them – until a timer ticks down. The saboteurs are trying to attack the base’s airlocks and stopping them is your mission. The droid can move through the tunnels backwards and forwards; turn around, and fire, and there’s a tiny window showing its view in the bottom right of the screen. The even tinier square box inside the view window is the gun sight, and you have to get the saboteurs inside this to register a hit. Which isn’t easy.

To progress to the next stage (called Skywatch, where you take control of a crosshair in the upper part of the screen and have to shoot down alien saucers) the game takes an average of your last five scores and only grants you access if you pass a set level. The first level, for example, requires an average of 50% to progress to level two. Thankfully the game does have a save system, so you don’t have to do a level again once you’ve completed it.

Stages from three onwards are variations of the Droid and Skywatch modes and you can switch between them by pressing D and S respectively. You can also press F to freeze time, C to communicate (for resupply/repairs), and H to hold and save the game and come back later.

The final stage is a challenging, all-out “survive for an hour” scenario, which is apparently very difficult to do (according to the manual if you survive for more than 35 minutes then you should write in and let Beyond Software know…)

I remember playing Psytron as a teenager and not knowing what what the hell was going on… It’s a game that’s not easy to get your head around, but is quite absorbing to play if you can be bothered to learn what to do. It’s easy enough to play once you understand the basic structure of the game.

More: Psytron on World of Spectrum

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